Hillside Police Department is still in disarray

HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside Police Department members, along with members of the Hillside community and town council, are responding to Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson’s alleged claims regarding improvements made at the department. According to some members in the department, civil service issues, reduced manpower, shoddy police vehicles and low morale continue to plague the HPD.

According to an anonymous source inside the department, things have not improved. “As far as we know, none of the civil service issues have been addressed,” the source told LocalSource. “The new hires are not in the system.

Angelo Lomonte isn’t made permanent, the ‘acting’ personnel aren’t in as permanent. She hasn’t rectified one issue that was wrong before. Not one provisional officers’ status has been made permanent,” the source said of Garretson.

In addition, current acting Chief Louis Panarese has not yet been approved as permanent.

According to sources, Garretson will have to approve hires immediately to have them participate in the January, 2017 recruitment class. As of now, say sources, the department is down to approximately 60 officers. “These recruits will not graduate until July 2017, putting the number of sworn officers at an all-time low unless these needs are met in a timely manner,” said the source. “If this deadline is missed yet again, the safety of Hillside’s residents will be at stake.”

Garretson spoke with LocalSource about the issues at the department. “As the department and I work with officers and schedules, we will address the issue that is not unique to only Hillside,” said Garretson. “We are not an anomaly, people that work can retire. This is why around the state several agencies are allowing lateral transfers like Hillside, and recruiting new officers.”

Garretson said that she will do all she can to ensure that new recruits make it for the January recruitment class. “The administration and police department together will do everything we can,” said Garretson. “You see, together we are responsible for ensuring the public safety in our town. As mayor, I am committed to exploring all available options and the police department leadership will provide recommendations to make this happen.”

Another source inside the department who asked to remain anonymous told LocalSource that the situation is dire at the HPD. “We can’t fill the open supervisor positions because we’d be taking officers out of patrol rank and we can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have enough guys to fill the positions. There’s been no communication between the administration and the department.

There’s usually a committee. It’s got to be a collective effort by all. There’s no positive upswing. That’s a complete false narrative. Morale is down.”

According to Matt Casterline, union president of the Patrolmen’s Association, the department is way behind the rest of the state in many regards. “We’re 20 years behind the rest of the state when it comes to equipment and law enforcement practices,” Casterline told LocalSource. “There’s no word or plan on hiring officers.”

Casterline also cites monies collected by the township that he says have not been put back into the department. “The township has collected close to $500,000 for side jobs,” said Casterline. “It has been received by the administration but none of it has been recycled back into the department.”

According to Casterline, the township has also budgeted $150,000 per year for new patrol cars, and Casterline questions why new cars have not been purchased.

“There are still pay problems, and guys aren’t getting their longevity raises or longevity steps,” said Casterline, who says that the department has been working without a contract for more than two years. “In today’s day and age, we need more officers than ever,” said Casterline. “In a time when we need more officers, we have less. We are at historically low numbers when it comes to manpower. The department is in a bad state of affairs and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”

In addition, people inside the department, as well as council members, continue to express frustration in the aftermath of Garretson’s suit against Panarese and the council. According to sources, an OPRA request was put in by Garretson’s attorney, Genia Philip, requesting any and all documents associated with Panarese. Sources tell LocalSource that this request was made after the court hearing in June, and that Philip received them mere hours after the request was made. But according to sources, Philip told superior court Judge Karen Cassidy that she had not received these documents because they had ended up in her spam folder.

But Garretson said that at issue is the question of whether the council can act outside their authority. “We have moved on to what is important and that is dealing with the order and the judge suggesting mediation,” said Garretson. “We are not stuck on minor issues. The major issue is, can the council act outside their authority and to date the answer is clear — no.”

Hillside Councilman Sip Whitaker expressed displeasure at the current state of affairs in Hillside. “All we’re trying to do is what is right for the town,” Whitaker told LocalSource. “We need more police, more firefighters. We’re just trying to get the mayor to do her job. Where are the police officers? Where are the firefighters and equipment? We’ve been fighting for the last two-and-a-half years to get the streets paved. If she put as much energy into that as she did throwing a big party, we’d actually get things done.”

Whitaker also addressed Garretson’s claims of victory in her suit against Panarese. “Where’s the victory?” said Whitaker. “We just want her to do things the right way. We have to go to court to get her to do the right thing? Come on,” he said.